Diary of a Stock Market Loser

I humbly crept into a public confessional last week, admitting that I was one of the worst players in the Motley Fool CAPS community. I had been outscored by all but 0.5% of the roughly 44,000 participants who have submitted enough stock picks to generate a ranking.

The irony here is that there was a time when I was Top Fool. Back when there were only a hundred or so of us testing out the service, I was on top of the world for a few weeks. It didn't last long. I may never get back there, but I'm going to chronicle my weekly moves to claw myself out of the bottom.

A week into my experiment, I'm essentially where I was a week ago. My player rating of 0.51% shows that I am faring better than just 0.51% of the stock-picking raters. I have to do better.

Making moves and taking names
I did a little pruning this week. I ended my bullish ratings on Jackson Hewitt Tax Services (NYSE: JTX  ) and Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE  ) . We're heading into tax season -- Jackson Hewitt's bread-and-butter business -- but I think that both Jackson Hewitt and H&R Block (NYSE: HRB  ) will be very careful with their refund anticipation loans.

With the Internal Revenue Service taking a closer look at the practice, things could get dicey at the worst possible time for the tax-return specialists. Even if the companies claim they're not aggressively marketing the short-term loans, the scrutiny could dry up the demand for the services; people might choose to simply fire up tax-filing software from the convenience of home.

I also bowed out of Expedia, at a small profit, because I see little reason to get excited about the travel portals. With actual travel providers getting smarter about promoting their online reservation platforms, this is going to be a tough industry to stand out in, unless you have a magnetic gimmick like Priceline's (Nasdaq: PCLN  ) "name your own price" platform.

I also initiated two new positions this week. I put out a bearish call on Rediff.com (Nasdaq: REDF  ) . I really wanted to like this company a year ago, but it's deteriorating. The company's India Online revenues grew by just 10% in its latest quarter, and earnings fell. In fact, interest income accounted for the entirety of the company's profit. If you're not growing profitably as a Web company in India, someone else is eating your market share.

I also turned bullish on E*Trade (Nasdaq: ETFC  ) . I should have done this two weeks ago. After rival broker TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) posted healthy trading metrics, I got pumped about the upcoming E*Trade report.

"It's encouraging enough for me to go out on a limb and predict that E*Trade's quarterly report -- next week, after Thursday's market close -- will propel shares of E*Trade higher the next day," I wrote at the time. "If anything, it will be a sigh of relief."

I was right. E*Trade inched higher after its quarterly report. The company has been ticking higher this week as well, in anticipation of the pair of Super Bowl ads it will run during the second half of the country's biggest televised event of the year. Thanks to this, investor confidence should start creeping back into the shares.

E*Trade still has some subprime baggage to worry about on the banking side, but I think it has a good shot of getting its discount retail brokerage back into a favorable light. I just hope that E*Trade does more than hit us with the chimpanzee from the company's pre-dot-com-bubble Super Bowl spots.

Things can only get better
Instead of neglecting my CAPS page, I'm going to park myself there until I get it right. If you're like me -- frustrated at your poor CAPS ranking -- resolve to get out there and right those wrongs.

If you've never checked out Motley Fool CAPS, now is the perfect time to start. With so many stocks trading at such attractive valuations, you have a great opportunity to make a strong leap into the community-driven stock-idea generator. At the very least, you know you will start off ahead of me.

Let's do this. I'll check back with you next week.


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